Ruling

01666-22 Bird v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      23rd June 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01666-22 Bird v Sunday Life

Summary of Complaint

1. Adrian Bird complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “BOOKIES GUN LOYALIST HAS STORMONT FUNDED JOB” / “Loyalist caught with bookies massacre gun has Stormont funded job”, published on 13 February 2022.

2. The article reported on the publication of a recent Police Ombudsman report which investigated the murder of 12 people in an incident in 1992. The article focused on a named individual who the publication believed featured heavily in the report under a cypher. The article stated that he was now employed by the Resurgam Trust, described in the article as “a government-backed community organisation which includes ex-UDA leader [the complainant] as its director.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Loyalist caught with Belfast bookies massacre gun has Stormont-funded job”.

4. The complainant, who was referred to as “ex-UDA leader Aidy Bird” in the article, said it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he stated he had never been a leader of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) nor been questioned or charged with being a member of the organisation. He said that his leadership roles in peacebuilding and conflict transformation had led to a small number of journalists labelling him as a former UDA leader in previous press articles. The complainant said that these references were inaccurate, but that he had never made a complaint to IPSO or its predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission about the articles. He did, however, provide correspondence from his solicitors in 2010 concerning alleged inaccuracies in a different newspaper addressed to its editor. The correspondence did not detail specific inaccuracies but rather complained about inaccuracies in general. He also said that he had met and challenged this editor, which resulted in the papers not “attacking” him for a period of time.

5. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It maintained that it was a matter of record that the complainant served six years in HMP Maze as a UDA/UFF inmate as described in a report from 1995. The report quoted the complainant on his release along with loyalist and republican inmates and described him as a “former commander for the outlawed Ulster Defense Association, the largest Protestant group”. The publication further asserted that the complainant’s senior position in the UDA was documented by a BBC journalist and documentary maker in a book published in 1999. The publication quoted the same journalist who in 1994 had written that the UVF and the UDA/UFF could not contemplate calling a ceasefire in 1994 without consulting their prisoners in the Maze, and reported that: "The first vote among the UDA and UFF prisoners showed that there was great hostility to the idea and ominously the opposition was led by the organisation's Officer Commanding in the Maze, Adrian 'Adie' Bird.”

6. The publication also said that it has been widely reported that the complainant was a former UDA leader and provided examples from newspaper articles from 1989 to 2022 in which he had been referred to as a UDA leader, UDA Boss, UDA commander, UDA chief, “former UDA prisoner who heads up Lisburn UDA”, and “South Belfast UDA [name’s] second in command”. Additionally, the newspaper said that its loyalist sources had claimed the complainant took a senior role in the UDA becoming commander in Lisburn. The publication further referenced a book which quoted a former deputy governor at the Maze, who described the complainant as a member of the 'loyalist leadership'.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

7. The Committee noted the dispute between the parties as to whether the complainant could accurately be described as a former UDA leader and acknowledged that it was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting positions. The question for the Committee was whether the publication had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of its description of the complainant in these terms and whether it could establish any significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

8. The Committee noted that the publication had provided numerous sources to support its characterisation of the complainant’s position in the UDA, ranging from book extracts to newspaper coverage. While it appreciated that the complainant disputed the accuracy of previous coverage of his membership and status within the UDA and acknowledged that his solicitors had contacted a different publication concerning alleged inaccuracies, it noted that the correspondence provided did not include a denial of the specific claim under dispute in this complaint. The Committee also noted that these letters had been directed to a different publication, and it did not appear that any correction relating to the complainant’s alleged position in the UDA had resulted from the correspondence. It therefore did not consider the correspondence had a bearing on whether the newspaper had taken care to accurately report the complainant’s previous status within the UDA.

9. In this instance, where the publication had provided numerous sources, published over a considerable timespan in both newspapers and books, that described the complainant as holding a senior role in the UDA, and where previous reports remained available uncorrected, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the allegation that the complainant was a former leader of the UDA and there was no breach on Clause 1 (i).

10. Furthermore, in circumstances where the publication had provided significant substantiation and detail to corroborate its claim about the complainant’s status, and the claim had been well-established in the public domain through repeated publication over many years, which appeared to be unchallenged by the complainant, the Committee did not consider that it was in a position to establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1 (ii) in this instance.

Conclusion(s)

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. N/A


Date complaint received: 17/02/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/06/2022